After what seems like a longer-than-usual break, even though it’s only been roughly a month, Bellator MMA starts 2017 with a bang with another loaded card that features fighters recognizable to both Bellator fans and MMA fans overall. The main event of this card also has the unique distinction of being both the Bellator debut of one of the most notorious fighters in recent memory, and the last fight for a MMA legend. Who am I talking about? Welp, you’ll just have to read on to find out.
Derek Anderson (14-2) vs. Derek Campos (17-6) (Lightweight – 155 lbs.)
This fight could go a long way toward determining who the next contender might be for Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler. Both Anderson and Campos have won two fight in a row, and have triumphed some of the toughest fighters around, including Melvin Guillard, Patricky “Pitbull” Freire and Saad Awad. However, Anderson’s last win via a finish came almost exactly two years ago, but he’s still won 11 total fights by finishing his opponent.
While Campos has won his last two fights, he’s already come up short against some of the tougher names in Bellator, including Chandler, Freire and Brandon Girtz. I like Anderson to mix things up, keep Campos guessing and state his case for a title shot with a win.
Winner: Anderson by unanimous decision
Georgi Karakhanyan (26-6-1) vs. Emmanuel Sanchez (13-3) (Featherweight – 145 lbs.)
Karakhanyan has looked a man reborn in his last two fights, which were both first-round knockout victories, including one over the highly-regarded Bubba Jenkins. Karakhanyan’s move from World Series of Fighting to Bellator in 2014 has appeared to serve him well, as he is on the cusp of a featherweight title shot. I think he gets here in rather spectacular fashion over Sanchez, who hasn’t had a fight result in a finish – win or lose – since 2014. Expect another highlight reel knockout in this one.
Winner: Karakhanyan by KO
Brennan Ward (15-4) vs. Paul Daley (38-14-2) (Welterweight – 170 lbs.)
Speaking of highlight reel knockouts, this is absolutely a fight you do not want to miss. This fight could easily usurp the whole card, including the main event, and end up being the fight everyone talks about the next day. To grossly oversimplify things, Ward and Daley just like to bang. Both guys love to stand and trade punch after punch after punch, and I think it’s fair to wonder if either guy really worries about whether they knock someone out or they’re the ones who get knocked out, as long as they put on an entertaining performance for the fans.
I could try to give an in-depth, technical breakdown of this fight, but why bother? We know what we’re going to get. There will likely be no display of technical jiu-jitsu, or wrestling of any sort. Ward and Daley will stand in front of each other, and they will rain punches on each other and one of them will likely get knocked out in amazing fashion. I like the younger Ward to be the giver of said knockout, instead of the receiver.
Winner: Ward by KO
Hisaki Kato (6-2) vs. Ralek Gracie (3-0) (Middleweight – 185 lbs.)
Bellator will try to go 3-for-3 in the memorable knockout department on this card with this fight. If you know anything about Kato, you know he had one of the all-time great knockouts of Joe Schilling in 2015, and was on the receiving end of a devastating knockout as well from Melvin Manhoef that same year. But Kato has rebounded since then with knockout wins for both Bellator and Rizin Fighting Federation. Grace is of course a member of the legendary Gracie family and makes his Bellator debut here after starting his MMA career in Japan. Unfortunately, I don’t think Gracie’s name will be enough to make his Bellator debut a happy one.
Winner: Kato by TKO
Tito Ortiz (18-12-1) vs. Chael Sonnen (28-14-1) (Light Heavyweight – 205 lbs.)
As I referenced in the beginning of this preview, this fight is both the Bellator debut for the UFC veteran, Sonnen, and the last MMA fight, ever, for Ortiz. The build-up for this fight has pretty much gone as you’d expect, with Sonnen unraveling his usual trash talk that we all remember from his fights against Anderson Silva in the UFC. But Sonnen making a comeback after it seemed his career was over after testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) was outlawed in the UFC, gives Bellator another marquee name who may still have something left in the tank.
Both Ortiz and Sonnen are experienced wrestlers, and I think that will be heavily on display in this fight. The question might end up being : Who is the better-conditioned athlete? Can Sonnen still compete at a high-level, post-TRT? Can Ortiz’s body still hold up for one last fight? This may not be the most exciting fight to watch – at least compared to other fights on this card – but I think the “Bad Guy” Sonnen still has something to offer and can be a player in a fairly shallow talent pool in Bellator’s light heavyweight division.
Win or lose, Ortiz should be lauded and celebrated for what he’s accomplished in his career. “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” got the ball rolling with bringing MMA to a bigger audience with his legendary feud against Ken Shamrock in the early days of the UFC. Even though I think Sonnen wins this fight, Ortiz should still receive a sendoff fitting of one of the best to ever step into the cage.
Winner: Sonnen by unanimous decision